Professor John Carlson and Elissa Hallem, his former graduate student, say their analysis allows researchers to now make predictions about which odors smell alike to an animal, and which smell differently.
"These predictions can now be tested in behavioral experiments and may help point us to insect attractants and repellants that are highly effective," said Carlson.
The study identifies compounds that both stimulate and inhibit response in odor neurons, and the differences in response that are due to concentration and duration of exposure to a compound.
"We were surprised to find that inhibitory responses are widespread among odor receptors," said Carlson. "Most receptors are inhibited by at least one odor, and most odors inhibit at least one receptor. Although previous work has been concerned mainly with excitatory responses of receptors, our results suggest that inhibition may play a major role in how odors are identified."
The study is detailed in the current issue of the journal Cell.